The Son – Tom O. Keenan

This is another book I received to review for an award before it was published hence the time taken to put my review on here. I loved this book from the start as it was written from the point of the Cu-Sith  who is the grey dog or soul taker of Gaelic legends. If you hear the three howls of this shadowy creature it is said he is coming to get you very soon. I thought it was such an original and fascinating idea and discovered this is the third in a series of ‘psychosleuth’ about the murder victim’s family. I found the inclusion of the dead boy’s spirit intriguing  and disturbing at the same time. However, I felt that a glossary of the Gaelic words and phrases would have been useful. I have a wee bit of Gaelic so I understood most of it but, if you don’t know that ‘maha’ is just ‘then’ as in OK maha you could be a bit lost. The Highland community where the tale was set was true to life and reminded me of the communities in North Skye where I lived for many years. Acceptance is everything and tales abound! The ending where the father of the victim revealed all he had found in his pursuit of a cover up was fantastic. There were a few typos but, hopefully these will have been sorted before the final printing. 

The House of Lamentations – S. G. MacLean

I was sent this book to review for an award so have been unable to review it until now. I had read a couple of the Damian Seeker series but wasn’t up to date with it so had to do a little research into the period and the king, Charles II, who was in exile. There was an epilogue in the book but, I felt that this would have been better as a prologue for the readers that had not read the others in the series. A map would have been helpful as well although the descriptions of the Netherlands did bring the location to life. I really enjoyed the story as the twists and turns made it intriguing and exciting. The characters were well presented and you were never sure whether they were Royalists or followers of Oliver Cromwell who was on his deathbed at the time. The fact that Seeker had returned from his fake death so could be discovered at any moment added to the suspense throughout the book. Altogether a recommended read if you like historical fiction and I would really love to see these books as a series on TV.

10 Minutes And 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak

The story here is based on the scientific premise that once the heart stops beating the brain actually stays alive for anything up to the longest time recorded so far which is ten minutes and thirty eight seconds! The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019 and, sadly, I have seen some quite bad reviews about it. Some people seem to have enjoyed the first part and not the second but, I thoroughly enjoyed it all! It really isn’t as gruesome as the title may lead you to believe as it focuses on a murder victim’s last thoughts after she has been dumped in a rubbish bin in Istanbul. The victim is a prostitute known as Tequila Leila and, in her last thoughts, she tells the story of her childhood and how she ended up in the Street of Brothels. We also hear of the five best friends she meets along the way who come from a variety of genders and suffer some disabilities. In Istanbul there is a cemetery known as the Cemetery of the Companionless where anyone without a family to claim them is buried with no headstone just a number on a wooden post to mark their passing from the world. As Leila, whose birth name was Leyla, has no family that wish to admit even knowing her, this is where her body has been taken. The second part of the book relates the tale of how her friends, with the help of a well meaning mortuary assistant, find where she is in the cemetery and set about removing Leila to a better place. Some of their escapade is amusing and other parts heart wrenching all of which makes for a great read.

Lost Girls – Angela Marsons

Yet another gripping thriller from this author who is one of my favourites and never disappoints. This book concerns two young girls who go missing from a leisure centre as they are waiting to be picked up by a parent. The kidnapper uses a third person to create a distraction in order that the girls can be snatched by someone they think they can trust. As the hours tick by the two sets of parents, who decide to stay in the same house, are pitted against each other, which creates a great tension filled atmosphere in the book. DI Kim Stone goes over and above the call of duty, despite her personal deficits, to try to rescue the girls as the present case has links to a previous one in which only one of two snatched girls is returned. In the course of the investigation these links turn out to be invaluable in tracing the culprit as does the third person used in the distraction. The twist at the end concerning who is actually involved is both surprising and clever! I can thoroughly recommend the books in this series and hope you will enjoy them all.

The Librarian Of Auschwitz – Antonio Iturbe

This book is meant for Young Adult readers but, don’t let that put you off. It is a heroic story of a young girl who survived the holocaust based on the true story of Dita Kraus. As a fourteen year old girl Dita, along with her parents is sent to the ghetto of Terazin and from there to the horrific camp that we know as Auschwitz. At first I felt that the book was a bit too light for the tale it was telling as there seemed to be very little of the fear and menace that these poor people had to endure. However, as the story moves on the true horror of the camp becomes all too apparent. A fellow inmate, Freddy Hirsch, asks Dita if she will become the guardian of the eight tattered books that make up the library in the so called Family Camp – a role which could bring Dita into close scrutiny and worse from the Nazi commandants. She takes her job very seriously even getting special clothes made in order to hide the precious books and risking her life to get all the information she can from the resistance members within the camp. As we know, Dita manages to survive to tell of the horror she and others endured, as well as the stories of those who didn’t make it to the eventual liberation, which the Nazis tried so hard to hide from the rest of the world. Although books on this subject are always rather distressing Dita’s courage and determination to survive shine through to make this an enjoyable read.

The Child’s Child – Barbara Vine

This is my second foray into Ruth Rendell’s books written under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. I always enjoy the psychological elements of this author’s books so was keen to read the Barbara Vine ones and they do not disappoint. This book deals with the emerging acceptance of homosexuality and unmarried mothers within the time periods of the 1930’s and the 1950’s. The first part deals with the 1950’s in which a gay man, moves into a house he has inherited along with his unmarried sister who then becomes pregnant by her brother’s lover. I then wondered if I wanted to go back in time but, I did find both parts intriguing. In the 1930’s tale we meet Maud, who becomes pregnant at fifteen, and is taken to live with her gay brother as his wife in a small village. This should have been an ideal cover up but, it isn’t long before Maud’s brother starts to feel trapped especially when he becomes more involved with his London based lover, Bertie. Of course Maude strongly disapproves of the rather course Bertie and her brother’s relationship with him but, isn’t really in a position to show her true feelings. As always Rendell’s characters are so well defined that a reader can feel that they know someone just like those portrayed in the book. Maud is a particularly well developed character as she starts off as a frightened child who is glad to be cared for by her brother in her time of need and ends up as a despicable person who only cares for herself. Towards the end of the book we return to the 1950’s and see just how the two tales mirror each other in many ways. By the end of both narratives the characters seem mostly to have found their place in life even if it isn’t exactly what they wanted. In some cases they certainly get what can only be described as their ‘come uppence’! What I found most interesting was that, although the time period moved on, the actual moral opinion towards gay men and unmarried mothers had not really changed all that much by the fifties. Thankfully, we have moved on quite a bit in 2020 so there are fewer and fewer people who feel themselves entitled to take such high moral opinions as those we find in this book.

The Queen’s Fool – Philippa Gregory

I have to say that, of all the Philippa Gregory books I have read, this one is my favourite. Set in Tudor times, but instead of focussing on the kings and queens, tells the story of a young Jewish girl, Hannah, who has recently escaped the Spanish Inquisition with her printer father. Living as protestants they set up a printing and book shop in London which, in itself a dangerous endeavour, as in that unstable period in history many books are deemed to be heretical. A visit to the shop by the powerful Sir Robert Dudley, during which Hannah has a vision of an angel, changes her life forever when Dudley begs her for a fool to the king. The reigning monarch is the sickly son of the recently deceased King Henry VIII, and his time on the throne is inevitably short lived. Upon his death, Hannah is passed to Queen Mary and the much more impressive Princess Elizabeth. She then spends her time between these two powerful women but, also answering to her Lord Dudley with whom she falls in love. Hannah is tasked with spying on each of her providers in turn by the other two and has a hard job managing to survive as well as trying to avoid becoming ensnared by men involved in experiments in alchemy as well as plots against those in power. Among her other difficulties she has to deal with those she serves setting great store on Hannah being able to use her gift of the ‘sight’ in their battle for power. She also has a commitment to a young man her father has chosen for her to marry which brings more ups and downs in her life as he tries to persuade her to leave court so they can be married. During all of her time, in and out of court life, Hannah is haunted by the cruel execution of her mother making her greatest fear to be that of her origins and inherited faith being discovered. I found this book really enthralling – it brought me to tears, trepidation, laughter and every emotion in between during the many turns in the tale of Hannah’s life. If you have never read any of this author’s books try this one as I’m sure many other readers will enjoy it as much as I did!

No Dominion – Louise Welsh

I didn’t realise that this is the third book in a trilogy but, it was the only one available to get signed at the Bloody Scotland event. However, even though you don’t know the back story it is quite readable as a standalone. The story takes place seven years after an epidemic of ‘the sweats’ has hit the UK wiping out most of the population. Some of the survivors have set up a community in the Orkneys and are doing quite well with Stevie and Magnus in positions of authority running things. That is until some strangers arrive and children start to disappear along with the newcomers. Stevie and Magnus set off across country trying to trace where their charges and their kidnappers have gone running into some dangerous situations along the way. They find that numerous communities have sprung up across Britain some of which definitely do not welcome interlopers and sadly find some of their missing community have met a sad end. Our two heroes end up in a post apocalyptic London where packs of wild dogs rule the street and power crazed humans rule everything else! However, they manage to rescue at least some of the children with the help of a few folk who take their side and even manage to return to Orkney almost in one piece. I found this a fascinating tale with characters and events so well described by the author that you were able to picture what a country would be like if ever such events overtook a population. Sadly, as we know, these things have actually happened in some countries and we can only hope that, if we ever find ourselves in such a situation, we will also find some heroes to lead us!

Just as an extra comment I would like to say that I loved the format of this book in paperback. The pages were thinner than usual and made the book much easier to handle!

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

I found this book in my local library and had heard many good things about it so I decided to give it a go despite the many books I already have in my TBR pile! I was glad I did as it was so intriguing that I finished it in two days – mostly on a crowded bus to Inverness and back! The story tells of Cameron, one of three brothers, who dies a terrible death of heat and dehydration in a lonely spot in the Australian outback by a mysterious monument – The Stockman’s Grave. As Cameron’s car is found just over nine kilometers away it is a complete mystery as to how he got to where he died and why. As the tale unfolds many theories are put forward by the police, the family as well as other ‘interested’ parties. Affairs, jealousies and a possible rape all give rise to speculation as to why Cameron died. However, the actual cause of his death in this dreadful, lonely place is quite unexpected and makes for a surprising twist. Although the title character is ‘The lost man’ my feeling was that most of the male characters were lost in their own way! The author really gives the reader a feeling for the difficult conditions and way of life in the heat and a terrain full of dangers which surrounds the characters. All in all a terrific read not to be missed!

The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

I loved this book from the first page and had high hopes for it as I was sent it to review for an award. The two main characters Andrew, a dwarf who is a dollmaker, and a young woman Bramber, who is in an institution, were so beautifully described that I could visualise them as well as empathise with their problems. I really enjoyed the insertion of the short stories, ostensibly by another dollmaker, which seemed to reflect on the happenings in the main characters lives. Andrew and Bramber become penpals so their story unfolds in a series of revealing letters between the two. At this point the story is quite magical but, once Andrew decides to make a journey in order to turn up unannounced at Bramber’s door I started to shout in my head to Andrew that this was the last thing he ought to do. His journey, which takes many days, increases the tension in the story as the author tells of the places he found himself in and the characters he met. On the way he stops to visit an exhibition of dolls which features one which Andrew has held in great esteem for many years. He spots an opportunity to steal this rather menacing creature as a gift for the ill fated Bramber giving the reader another reason to feel that everything he’s doing is wrong on so many levels. However, sadly for me, the eventual meeting of these two did not live up to my expectations so I felt it was a bit of a let down and could have been made much more of! Before the last few pages I had loved everything about the book – the characters, the writing and the way the story unfolded so was left with a rather empty feeling as I finished the last page.